China has unveiled an “integration plan” between its coastal province of Fujian and Taiwan when invasion fears loom over the self-ruled island as Beijing vows to unite it with the mainland.
The Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party issued the directive, which promised to make Fujian a “demonstration zone” for Taiwan-integrated development and the “first home” for Taiwanese citizens and businesses to live in China.
Fujian, for one, lies on the western part of the Taiwan Strait, is the closest geographically and culturally to Taiwan, and hosts many Taiwanese people who migrated for education or employment. The document runs 21 pages and has been touted as a “blueprint” of Taiwan’s future growth.
Wang Jianmin, a senior cross-Straits expert at Minnan Normal University in Fujian Province, was quoted by state-owned Global Times as saying, “From the central government attaching great importance to the exploration of cross-Straits integration and development, we can see that the central government still regards cross-Straits peaceful development and integration as the essence of the work concerning Taiwan.”
What Is The New Fujian-Taiwan Integration Plan?
The document aims to “deepen cross-strait integrated development in all fields and promote the process of peaceful reunification.” The government would promote the coastal province as the first-choice gateway to the mainland for Taiwanese residents and companies, facilitating bilateral trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges.
Although Beijing has attempted to woo Taiwanese people for a few years, the document gives it a more liberal expansion. For example, many Chinese cities have reportedly passed orders allowing compatriots with Taiwan residence permits to rent or purchase public housing at prices below market rate with an eye on reducing their living costs.
Visitors from Taiwan won’t have to register for temporary residency in Fujian under the new plan, and they’ll be encouraged to permanently settle down there, buy homes, and participate in the social assistance system on the mainland.
All Taiwanese tourists must register for temporary residency, whether staying in a hotel or at a relative’s house, according to a revised legislation that took effect in 2015 and included a warning or punishment of 100-500 yuan (US$13-68).
Regarding China's recently published planning document on the integration of Taiwan into Fujian's economy.https://t.co/uXWnQ7KeHa
— Thomas Debant (@TDebant) September 14, 2023
More Taiwanese students should be enrolled at Fujian’s universities and research institutions, and there should be more employment possibilities and a better business climate for island residents and businesses.
According to the document, there would be special efforts to facilitate market access and support for various industries, particularly Taiwanese businesses, to hire more people from the island. In addition, a proposal to allow Taiwanese investors to fund the establishment of enterprises that produce and run radio and television programs will also be tested in the province of Fujian.
However, the so-called integration plan comes at a precarious time in cross-strait relations. Although China is now calling for development-based integration with Taiwan, the Chinese PLA has intensified military activity around self-ruled Taiwan. The document was released just days after a Chinese carrier was spotted near the island along with several other warships.
🚨🇨🇳 Chinese aircraft carrier, warships massing for major "exercise" near the Philippines. Taiwan has also been surrounded by Chinese warships for days. pic.twitter.com/FBh1Asaj8A
— Terror Alarm (@Terror_Alarm) September 14, 2023
Moreover, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has been regularly publishing updates on the PLA Air Force aircraft intruding into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in recent days. This makes the integration proposal even more interesting, given how Beijing takes a dual approach towards Taiwan.
Not just that, one day before the official release of the document, Wang Huning, the party’s No. 4 official, called for action to combat separatists and external interference in Taiwan as he took over his new post as the head of an organization tasked with fostering peaceful unification.
However, Wang also recommended more efforts to promote cross-strait exchanges and interactions at the plenary meeting of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification to “strengthen the foundation of public opinion.” This somewhat gives away the age-old “carrot and stick” approach that Beijing has adopted.
Chinese Integration Plan Or A Ploy? Experts Speak
Although the Chinese leadership has been unabashedly loud about its intention to annex Taiwan if it does not agree on a unification, military watchers believe that the lessons drawn from the Russian invasion of Ukraine have dissuaded the country from taking on this adventurism at least for a few years despite growing diplomatic and military cooperation between Taiwan and the United States.
Some experts believe that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan will not occur until 2027, while some think it will happen sometime in 2025. The presentation of an integration document at a time when the military option has been off the table for a couple of years is, thus, intriguing.
EurAsian Times approached experts to put the new Chinese plan in perspective. China expert Aadil Brar said, “The façade is to create divisions within the Taiwanese society ahead of the elections in January. Plus, the plan makes it black and white for Taiwanese- more than ever before as it gives an impression of “whether you’re with us or against,” which loosely translates to pro-PRC or pro-Independence.”
When asked whether he thinks the Taiwanese people would accept something like this proposal, Brar said, “Taiwanese are unlikely to invest in China now, but there would be some who would use the opportunity to work and study there.
“Overall, there isn’t much interest in such a plan in Taiwan. Only some within the KMT welcome this type of integration plan. China seems to be using a dual strategy to restrict Taiwan’s options by seeming to offer a development plan while escalating military tensions around the island. It’s denial by coercion,” he added.
The opposition KMT party, aligned with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has essentially framed the elections as a referendum on whether the self-ruled island state would go to war with China. The fact that it won some local elections has caught the attention of Beijing.
EurAsian Times also contacted Philippines-based defense analyst Miguel Miranda, who drew parallels between Chinese policy for Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Elaborating on the issue, he said, “An insight that can be gleaned from China’s economic plans for Fujian is its strong parallels with the situation in Hong Kong from 2018 until 2019. Once its control over the city’s government was secured and the dissident movement was demoralized enough, ambitious projects were launched to revitalize the city and integrate it further with the mainland. China’s aggressive foreign policy is predictable if you pay attention.”
The Chinese approach has been that of duality for a long time and signals towards a pattern. In 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphatically called on the people of Fujian to pursue integrated development with Taiwan. However, since 2020, it has been belligerent towards Taiwan, with tensions now escalating in the region.
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